The Legend Of Mike Smith (SW Recordings; 2013)
Julian Joseph (piano)
Shabaka Hutchings (sax)
Karl Rasheed Abel (bass)
Graham Godfrey (drums)
Cleveland Watkiss (vocals)
Rachel Maby (vocals)
Eska Mtungwazi (vocals)
The story of city. The story of artist as a young man. Or how to survive it all. On your own terms. Those are some of the ways to look at Soweto Kinch's latest hybrid opus, The Legend of Mike Smith.
As with his previous albums of jazz fueled hip hop (or hip hop fueled jazz?), Soweto Kinch has filled this album with more hilarious interludes and mind boggling tales, that very well could be true. Or at least resembles scene that I know have happened in meetings between artists, management and labels. The Legend of Mike Smith is played with sheer brilliance from the composer to all the bandmates and cast members.
The album surveys the journey of creativity running and battling against the stale, bland and repetitiveness of an industry and environment that continues be stagnant. "Invidia" (or envy) exemplifies Kinch's rage and beauty with description of the balance between the artist reality and the fame that seems to eludes him. Hard hitting beats and "jungle-like" vocals that are true to the portrait.
While "Invidia" is a glimpse into the hip-hop language of Soweto Kinch, "Road Block" is filled with candescence melodies from Kinch on sax. An variance that definitely shows his skill on the horn is growing and becoming more individually descriptive.
"Vaccum" is a lovely ballad filled with bold lines and calm serenity that I personally haven't heard from Kinch on previous albums. And the performance from Jay Phelps is sublime. "Sweeping Changes," allows quartet portion of the ensemble to move effortlessly through a steady midtempo arrangement where Kinch almost sounds like Sonny Rollins.
"Avarita" sparks the sociopolitical side of Kinch's lyrics. Discussing the city and global disparities of well-being for all and it's effects. Kinch has an energy and bit that slices cross the headphones like Roots Manuva. A great track filled with rough and ready beats and lyrics--solid stuff. "The Healing" and "The Bounce" close out Mike Smith's trials and tribulations on a joyous note. Built with funky hard bop pattens but maintaining a rich view of the future--Soweto Kinch nails the ending elements of this epic album perfectly.
The Legend Of Mike Smith is ambitious (spanning two discs) but Soweto Kinch does have a lot to say and makes great use of the talent around him. Always a delicate balancing act between his hip hop influences and his jazz inventiveness--The Legend Of Mike Smith an excellent document of what happens when the two genres are done the right way. One of my albums of the year.